On a recent episode of Veep, press secretary Mike McLintock (played by Matt Walsh) finds himself standing next to a member of the Chinese president’s security detail at Camp David. He asks for a piece of gum, and the guard hands him his whole pack. Mike starts to say “thank you,” but interrupts himself, thinking better of it. “Hang on, I got just the thing,” he says, looking down at a translation app he had downloaded to prepare for their visit. He taps his iPhone’s screen, and holds it up to the guard’s ear. “Gracias,” a Siri voice blares. The guard turns away, insulted.
It’s pretty common for a member of Selina Meyer’s staff to demonstrate incompetence in situations that require diplomatic grace — that’s the entire reason Veep is entertaining! But, as the show’s fifth season comes to a close, Mike’s oafishness stands out for one particular reason: He has become the perfect sad portrait of a dissatisfied tech user. The poor guy is both delighted by the prospect that technology can fix the constant flow of problems in his life and perpetually disappointed when it digs him into a deeper hole of his own failure. HBO’s Silicon Valley may be the most incisive vehicle of criticism for tech-industry culture, but Mike represents the type of person who that industry affects: the stressed, overworked employee who must constantly rely on his phone for survival.
Mike is special because, as television has expanded to reflect our increasingly digital world, it has also conjured a few stereotypes. Television characters are generally cast into two categories of tech-savviness: the impressively judicious (i.e. Homeland’s Carrie Mathison — who can track a moving van of most-wanted terrorists with a few clicks of a mouse) or the exaggerated Luddite (i.e. Sex in the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, who, when handed an iPhone in the first film, exclaims, “I can’t work this!”). The former exists outside of a realistic realm of People Like You. The latter character’s ineptitude can sometimes be used for a cheap laugh.
Mike’s struggle with technology fulfills neither of those tropes because he is, as Walsh explained in a 2012 Politico interview, “not a dinosaur.” Rather: “[H]e’s a little outdated with the way media moves these days.” No real middle-aged press secretary can hack it in D.C. without being able to update his iOS, work a Fitbit, or read a weather app. (Mike’s community is so attached to smartphones that he and his wife Wendy banned them at their wedding). Though there are few who can say they have a more important position than Mike, the demands of his job in the viper pit that is modern communication — and the lack of technology to meet them — are struggles anyone with an internet economy job can relate to.
Take, for instance, a moment in Season 3, when Meyer is still vice president and has brought her staff to England for a press tour. After a story about the fat-shaming blog belonging to Meyer’s dim-witted personal trainer, Ray Whelans, leaks to the press, campaign manager Dan Egan has a nervous breakdown. As most of the staff members rush away from the room to do damage control, numbers guy Kent tells Mike he’s in charge. “Oh my god, Mike,” bag man Gary says, his eyes bulging in terror at the idea that he is now part of a McLintock-steered operation. Mike responds in the only way he knows how, by looking to his iPhone: “I got it, I got it, I got this, I got this,” he says frantically, pressing its Home button with purpose. “Siri, Ray Whelan’s treaty. Treatises!” The scene cuts away before Mike receives a response, but the implication is clear: Anyone who has tried to recite a complicated word to Apple’s voice assistant knows it is not any more prepared to help in a crisis than Mike is.
Even less obviously dysfunctional technology than Siri has a way of creeping into Mike’s life and ruining it. In Season 4, when Meyer is on the campaign trail and a violent storm begins brewing in North Carolina, the team debates whether she should appear in the state before or after it hits. Mike assures Meyer that he can track the storm on his phone with a “really good” weather app. (To which Meyer sarcastically responds: “We have the full power of the National Weather Service, Mike.”) At his advice, she eventually touches down in the state expecting to look like a hero, only to realize the storm has moved on to Florida. “This isn’t a hurricane. What the hell is this?” she says in her car on the way to a photo op. “My app says ‘moderate breeze,’” Mike responds, defeated. Meyer irritably suggests that he should get his money back for it. “It was actually free,” he responds, cluelessly. “I updated my software, and it just appeared on my screen.” Mike is part of the same captive audience to mediocre technology as the rest of us. The only problem is that when it fails, he must answer to the president.